If you’re ever down on Elm Street in Toronto you may have noticed a handsome new building for the YWCA. (It’s just down the street from the Arts and Letters Club where Healey Willan was an active member, and just steps from the spectacular Elmwood Spa.) The historic Edwardian building has been converted and renovated to create a wonderful living space with about 300 units for women who really need affordable, safe housing. You can read all about the green building project and how women can apply to live in this new facility at the YWCA website:
Also an interesting article from 2009 outlines the struggles that the Y experienced getting funding for the project, and how generous individuals came forward to make the dream of affordable housing for women a reality:
What has this to do with me you may ask? Soon the new building will be officially opened by the YWCA board and government officials. The Y wants to celebrate this happy event with a piece of music, so they commissioned me to write something. I thought it would be cool if the residents themselves were involved in creating the new piece, so with the help of YWCA staff, we had a workshop on Saturday afternoon. Residents of the new facility gathered in the auditorium to meet me and participate in creating a new work. I didn’t really know what to expect, and I imagine the residents were just as apprehensive as I was, not really knowing what would happen. We introduced ourselves and sang some campfire songs, and the women shared their experiences and how they felt about their new home. I was, frankly, amazed and moved by their poetic outlook, and how freely and openly they shared their stories, both good and bad. I jotted down the key words and phrases of our conversation. I took a long walk, wrote down some ideas on manuscript paper (I always keep a notebook in my purse!) slept on the idea, went to church, and then came home to finish the job. I worked up our material into a 4 -line text which I then set to music. The next step will be to try out the new song with the Y residents to see if it works. Then, we’ll await the announcement of the date of the official opening ceremonies, and get to work on making the piece work in a live performance.
This is a unique and exciting project and I’m grateful to the women at the Y who are collaborating with me. I think it’s going to be good ; )